What Uber, Comms Hero and HouseParty tell us about the future of the conference…

(A version of this post originally appeared on 24Dash – go visit them as they’re great!)

Marco Rubio Speech On Innovation At Uber's DC Offices

2pm 11th June: London grinds to a halt.

Cab drivers have downed tools for an hour.

Uber, a smartphone app that offers an easy and cheap taxi booking service, has rolled into the UK. Our taxi drivers, required to do training of between 4-7 years, are understandably outraged at this tech startup rocking up and suggesting services can be delivered in affordable ways that are more tailored to the customer.

The howls of anguish from the striking drivers were heard all across Europe. But far from highlighting the cause of taxi drivers it served only to promote Uber itself- which saw an 850% increase in subscriptions.

The hackney carriage – a tradition dating back to 1654 – faces potential disruption.

Plenty of howls of anguish in Manchester too this week as the annual housing conference rolled into town. This year though the conference had an Uber-like startup to contend with.

HouseParty – an unofficial fringe – had parked its (mini)bus just over the road.

Much like Comms Hero, it would be easy to dismiss HouseParty as a bit of inconsequential fluff. A bunch of malcontents fiddling around with social media and shiny tech whilst Rome burns.

But both formats deserve closer scrutiny. Both have super smart business brains behind them in Asif Choudry and Matt Leach. Both have got the sheer balls to deliver something different in a market starved of original thought. And both show an implicit understanding of their customers.

Comms Hero was developed after speaking to Comms people and asking them what they would design if they could create their ideal event.

HouseParty has evolved through social media connections and captured the imagination of people who would never have thought of attending a housing conference. Additionally it’s been co-designed by Esther Foreman a social entrepreneur who also happens to be – guess what? – a real life housing association tenant.

And they are new and achingly cool. Whereas the annual CIH conference has roots in a tradition starting back in 1931. On that basis it’s unfair to compare and contrast the three. But anyone who has attended them, or followed their social media feeds, will do so.

Let me be clear. This isn’t an attack on the CIH, an organisation I have huge respect for and who employ some inspirational people. Neither is it a ringing endorsement of Comms Hero or HouseParty – concepts that are taking their first awkward baby steps into the world.

But the fact is the annual conference , and public sector conferences like it , have to change.

You can’t blame the CIH. The public gets what the public wants. And, if we’re honest, the UK housing public wants an annual sideshow to the real business of getting together and having a chinwag and a few beers.

The conference this year certainly had a unified message: We need more social housing and we need more money. We need more of the same. Impassioned stuff and I, optimistically, hope it’s heard.

But at £525 for a one day non-member ticket you’d expect passion at the very least.

How attractive would this be to people in the top 5 of the digital Power Players list. People like Anne McCrossan, John Popham or Helen Reynolds? Sole traders who could help the sector be much better than it currently is.

How attractive would this be to a tenant?

Comms Hero has undercut its rivals by a good £100. HouseParty offered an innovative ‘pay what you can afford’ option.

Much like ‘affordable’ rents, our conferences need to consider their purpose, pricing and accessibility.

Thom Bartley has made the brilliant point that it’s now cheaper to fly to Amsterdam to see a 3D printed house than to pay to go to a housing conference and hear someone talk about it. We all know that housing has to revisit its purpose but that also involves a restatement of its values.

This is less an issue for the CIH than it is for the sector itself.

In reality neither Comms Hero nor House Party are competitors to traditional conferences – they offer something different. But just like Uber,  Spotify and Netflix they are bringing the question of customer value into the spotlight.

The annual conference, just like black cabs, will be around for a good while yet. But if nothing else the new kids on the block have made us consider “would we do it this way if we started again?”

And that’s always a pretty good question to ask.

Top 50 Power Players In #UKHousing 2014 – Your Vote Counts….

Power. Influence. Social Housing Heroes
Power. Influence. Social Housing Heroes

A year ago I published The Top 50 Power Players In Housing [Klout Edition] – featuring people working in and around the sector.

The idea came to me as I was sipping rum at a beach bar in Jamaica, checking my Klout score and wondering why I hadn’t made the main list in 24 Housing Magazine.

More seriously – it was done as an exercise in comparing online and offline influence.

Only 14 of the original Power Players remained in the online list. The democratising effect of social media was apparent. CEOs disappeared almost completely and were replaced by people with less seniority – in the traditional hierarchical sense. There was a higher number of women, more ethnic diversity and at least 3 of the top 10 influencers were under the age of 30.

There is a serious point to this. We now have a generation of people working in Housing who have no idea who David Orr and Grania Long are. But they would recognise John Popham and Dominic Campbell. It’s increasingly important that UK Housing leaders embrace digital as a relationship builder rather than a broadcast channel.

I never expected the post to be so popular , it’s the number two ranked piece on this blog and still gets views every day.

I also never planned to do a follow up list , but due to public demand I’m pleased to announce that there will be a 2014 edition published in June!

To freshen it up I’m making three changes based on feedback:

  • Although it will still use the controversial Klout score, there will be some new measures included. So , for example , I’ll be looking if a person has a frequently updated blog or website. The full criteria will be published alongside the list.
  • Politicians are being dumped. You told me you’d prefer a list without elected members – one that concentrated on real people working in and around the sector.
  • For the first time you’ll be able to nominate people you feel have made a significant contribution through their online influence. Who has really shaped things this year? Who ran the best blog? The best social media campaign? Remember this list is reserved for individual people only – you can’t nominate Housing Associations or companies. You can nominate people however you want. You can mention them on Twitter using the hashtag #powerplayers14 , you can DM me or send an email. Ideally though you will add a thread to the bottom of this post. Nominations or suggestions must be made by midnight on Sunday May 11th. 

I’m delighted to say that Shirley Ayres – co-founder of the Connected Care Network is joining me to collaborate on the list. Shirley was the Number 1 ranked influencer on last years list after politicians. So , just like me, Shirley won’t be appearing on this years list!

The list will be announced in June and published on this blog simultaneously with the print publication in 24 Housing Magazine. Thanks to Jon Land who is a great sport for suggesting this. Watch out for news also on how some of this years list could find themselves invited to a special event at House Party on 24th June. Thanks to Matt Leach , who would get my vote for innovation in housing , for this.

So – over to you. Who are the Power Players 2014? Remember – they don’t have to work in housing. Just influence it.

As I’ve said – in an online super-connected world – sectors only exist in our imagination anyway….

UPDATE TO POST

SO HERE WE GO…………………

THE 2014 SHORTLIST (although it’s quite long)

Abigail Scott Paul

@AbigailSPaul
Adrian Capon @AdeCapon
Aileen Evans @Bushbell
Ailin Martinez @ailinmartinez
Alex Blandford @blangry
Alex Marsh @shodanalexm
Alex Noonoo @Goonooa
Alison Dean @alisonhanily
Alison Inman @Alison_Inman
Alistair Somerville @Acuity_Design
Alys Cole-King @AlysColeKIng
Amy Lythgoe @AmyL_BAH
Andy Johnson @andyjatbromford
Andy Orrey @AndyOrrey
Andy Williams @andywilliamsLHT
Angela Lockwood @Angela_NSHG
Anne McCrossan @Annemcx
Asif Choudry @asifchoudry
Barry Marlow @barrymarlow
Ben Black @BenBlack
Ben Marshall @BenM_IM
Boris Worral @borisorbitgroup
Brett Sadler @brettsadler77
Carl Brown @carlbrownIH
Carl Haggarty @carlhaggarty
Caroline King @CKingatHelena
Charlotte Harrison @charlotteh_nhc
Chenoa Parr @chenoaparr
Cheryl Tracy @ctracy861
Chris Bolton @whatsthepont
Chris Goulden @Chris_Goulden
Clare Parslow @ClareParslow
Clare Tickell @claretickell
Colin Wiles @colinwiles
Dan Slee @danslee
Darren Caveney @darrencaveney
David Orr @natfeddavid
Edwina O’Hart @EdwinaOHart
Elisa Faulkner @ems_wales
Gary Orr @gary yarlington
Gavin Smart @gavinsmartCIH
Grania Long @granialongCIH
Grant LeBoff @grantleboff
Hannah Fearn @Hannahfearn
Harry MetCalf @harrym
Helen Barnard @Helen_Barnard
Helen Reynolds @helreynolds
Helena Moore @helenajmoore
Housing Grunt @housing_grunt
Immy Kaur @ImmyKaur
Inti Popat @Intipopat
Jacque Allen @jacqueallen2
Jacqui Grimes @JacquiNHC
Jake Eliot @HousingJake
James Grant @BristolJames
James Pargeter @Jamespargeter
Jamie Baker @jamieofficer
Jamie Davies-Morgan @jamiedmorgan
Jamie Ratcliff @JamatGLA
Janet Hale @pilkingtonhale
Janet Hunter @housingrightsNI
Janet Storar @JREJanet
Jarrod Williams @jarrodwilliams
Jayne Hilditch @jaynehilditch
Jen Barfoot @JASbar
Jennie Donald @Jenny_Donald
Jennie Ferrigno @justjennie45
Jeremy Porteous @HousingLIN
Joe Halewood @SpeyeJoe
John Hocking @john_hocking
John Popham @johnpopham
John Wade @JohnW_Bromford
Jon Land @JonLand24
Jon Leighton @Pokerfiend
Jules Birch @jules_birch
Julia Unwin @juliaunwin
Julie Nicholas @JulieNCIH
Kate Davies @KateDaviesNHHT
Kate Murray @kate_murray
Kate Reynolds @kate_reyn
Kathleen Kelly @JRFKathleen
Keith Edwards @keithedwardscih
Ken Perry @kenperry47
Kevin Williams @kevinw_wulvern
Lara Oyedele @laraoyedele
Lily Dart @lily_dart
Lindsay Graham @LindsayGrahamUK
Lisa Hughes @LisaHug90813883
Lisa Pickard @lyha_LisaP
Lucy Ferman @lucyferman
Martin Wheatley @wheatley_martin
Matt Leach @matt_leach
Matthew Gardiner @TeamTHT
Matthew Smart @iMattSmart
Michala Rudman @michalarudman
Michelle Reid @MichReid2014
Mick Kent @mickkent2
Nearly Legal @nearlylegal
Nick Atkin @NickAtkin_HHT
Nick Duxbury @nickduxbury
Nick Horne @knightsinwhites
Paddy Gray @Paddygray1
Patrick Butler @PatrickJButler
Paul Diggory @pauldiggoryNWH
Paul Smith @asterpaul
Peter Bond @petebond7
Peter Brown @PeterFBrown
Peter Hall @PHHSI
Polly Neate @pollyn1
Rachel Honey-Jones @RHoneyJones
Rachel Morton @RachelJMorton
Rae Watson @RaeWatson_
Richard Crossley @richardinleeds
Richard Sage @bakedidea
Rob G @Simplicity
Rob Jefferson @RobJefferson
Rob Warm @robwarm1
Ross Williams @ross_williams79
Sahil Khan @khan_sahil
Sasha Deepwell @sashadeepwell
Shaun Tymon @shauntymon
Shibley Rahman @legalaware
Steve Cook @StephenCookV2C
Steve Hilditch @SteveHilditch
Steve Meakin @smeakin60
Steve Nestor @stevenestor1
Stuart McDonald @smacdonaldSM
Sue Roberts @sueR10
Tamsin Stirling @tamsinstirling
Tessy Britton @TessyBritton
Thom Bartley @thombartley
Tim Frier @timfrier
Tim Morton @timmorton2
Tim Pinder @pindertim
Toby Lloyd @tobylloyd
Tom Murtha @TomeMurtha
Tony Stacey @TonyStacey
Tracey Wilson @traceyregenda
Vic Rayner @VicRayner
Vicky Bannister @vmbannister
Vicky Green @Vicky_Green1
Victor da Cunha @victor_dacahuna
William Shortall @MerseyNorthBM

Well done everyone – the Final Fifty will follow in a few weeks…

Thanks for voting

Shirley and Paul

Get Social, Embrace Disruption: Serving the Connected Customer

I’m thinking it’s about 6 minutes to midnight on the Digital Doomsday Clock.

Time is running out on the organisations who are yet to board the bus. Yet to start the journey to being different businesses serving changed customers on a multiplicity of screens.

1 in 4 Executives from around the world believe the time has already come to implement digital transformation across their organisations, and that doing so is already a matter of survival. For 63% – the pace of change isn’t happening quickly enough.

I’m in agreement – there are 3 things we need to do , and quickly

1 – Get Social

Having a Twitter account and using a hashtag at a conference doesn’t equate to digital leadership.

The concept is still developing , but the effective digital leader doesn’t say “change takes time” or “there are barriers in the way”. To quote from an excellent article by Mike Clarke:

Digital leaders review and dismantle traditional infrastructures that act as barriers to innovation or which do not add value – they support and champion people that are close to service users and customers – they help people unlearn bad habits & some non-digital skills that impede progress”.

They embrace disruption.

2 – Agree It’s Not So #FutureTech

The future doesn’t arrive next year. It’s here. Now.

John Popham has remarked in a post that there is a  “real divide in our society between those of us who live every day with the possibilities offered by new technologies and those to whom these things are a peripheral interest.”

Having a Customer Services Leader (at any level) with a peripheral interest in social and digital service is no longer fit for purpose – we need to support and re-train people to face up to the connected customer. But we need to balance this with the ticking clock – new skills and thinking may be required.

And don’t make assumptions about your customers. That 75 year old lady you think won’t like the internet is a level 85 Tauren Druid on World of Warcraft.

3 – Reimagine Connected Customer Service 

Let’s not digitise our existing customer service offering . Let’s look at the possibilities and build a new vision. Look at how Amazon have innovated within the digital space. Look at how Wonga have made the user experience really simple and intuitive. Whether you like these brands and what they do is irrelevant. Look and learn.

The steps I would take are these:

  • Align digital with business goals and strategy (If need be , review them)
  • Have a flexible vision. Keep it under review , daily if need be. Don’t try and guess what it’s like in 2020. Nobody knows.
  • Secure buy-in from your Executive team. And continually reinforce it.
  • Develop a project roadmap but make sure this is kept under review too. New tools can emerge very quickly. Agility is key.
  • Develop guidelines for how social and digital tools should be used. Avoid policy as much as you can. Build trust.
  • Agree resources (social and digital are not free). GIve people the tools for the job.
  • Nothing is certain. Accept failure is OK. Just kill things quickly and humanely when they are not working out.

It’s six minutes to midnight on the digital doomsday clock

Better start serving the Connected Customer